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Barbers cut roots of gender violence - Recruits urge men to walk away from broken relationships

Published:Friday | March 6, 2020 | 12:28 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer

Colin Greenwood has been a barber for more than 30 years. He first experimented with trimming his own hair until his family and friends trusted him enough. Their verdict? He made the cut.

But the 47-year-old is one of 25 barbers who have a higher calling on the front line as liaisons armed with a message of mediation, urging men to resist engaging in violence against women.

That message has greater resonance in 2020 amid a spate of deadly spousal attacks in Jamaica, the latest being last weekend’s slitting of the throat of 65-year-old Patsy Davidson-Powell in St Elizabeth, allegedly by her partner, a 76-year-old man.

The barbers, based in Kingston, Clarendon and Montego Bay, are engaged in an eight-month-long programme, ‘From the Barber Chair’, where they have been trained specifically in HIV/AIDS, gender-based violence, and mental health.

The barber shop was chosen as the ideal milieu because it is the place where, anecdotally, men unwind and are amenable to persuasion.

“It has been a great experience,” Greenwood said.

Training is being conducted by the Jamaica Mental Health Advocacy Network (JaMHAN), which is a grantee of the US Embassy Women’s History Month pitch competition.

In an interview with The Gleaner yesterday, Greenwood shared that the atmosphere in the shop has changed and talk was more constructive.

“I am now able to engage in conversations in a professional way. Everybody is vocal. They have their opinion, and they give their input,” he said.

With the recent cases of gender-based violence reported in the media, Greenwood said it has provided opportunities to further delve into the topic and he now sees himself as the “perfect person” to lead the conversation.

“I have encouraged people by telling them that it is not the end of the world and to be man enough to walk away without harming their partner,” said Greenwood.

JaMHAN Director Jhanille Brooks said the barbers, aged 18-50, have been equipped with communication skills and problem-identification skills.

“Many men will say that they go to the barber shop and they talk about every and anything, so we wanted to equip the barbers to handle certain discussions that come up and be advocates for change,” Brooks said.

The associate counselling psychologist shared that last week, a barber reached out to her, seeking referral for a psychologist in Montego Bay.

He had been having several conversations with a client, utilising the skills he had learnt but recognised that he needed professional help.

Participating barbers are required to submit monthly reports detailing their interactions, progress, and referrals they have made.

Their shops are also stocked with brochures and pamphlets related to the various subjects, and while the number of people reached cannot be fully accounted for, at least half the barbers have requested more reading material.

In a round table at the embassy in Kingston yesterday, five grantees who lead local not-for-profit organisations spoke candidly of their successes and challenges since they were each awarded US$20,000.

JaMHAN and Abilities Foundation were 2019 winners, while Eve for Life, HerFlow Foundation, and Youth Can Do I.T. won in the previous year.

Counsellor for public affairs, Jeremiah Knight, shared that it was a creative way of promoting the work being done to advance the cause of women and girls.